Which Fat is Best for Heart Health?

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Butter

If you are more confused than ever about dietary fats, you’re not alone. Can a high fat diet help you lose body fat? Which fat is best for heart health – butter, coconut oil or vegetable oil?

What is Cholesterol & Why is it Essential?
Cholesterol is an essential component of all cell membranes and a precursor to hormones, vitamin D and bile acids (needed for the digestion of fat). It is so important that your body regulates cholesterol balance to ensure your cells receive a continuous supply of cholesterol.

How does High LDL Contribute to Cardiovascular Disease?

Though cholesterol is critical for life, low density lipoprotein cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, is considered a risk factor for heart disease because excess LDL can lead to an increase in plaque buildup in your arteries. Think of this process like a garden hose with gunk stuck in it. The gunk interferes with water flowing through the hose. If too much debris gets in there, no water will flow through.  Likewise, plaque in your arteries will decrease the amount of blood that moves through your arteries at one time and a complete blockage could lead to a heart attack or stroke.  Now, this is a simplistic view, especially considering LDL isn’t just one particle but instead, several that contain different amounts of cholesterol. Some research suggests that smaller, more dense LDL particles are more artery clogging. However, in addition to particle size, total number of LDL particles and oxidation of LDL contribute to the disease process.

As LDL particles travel through the bloodstream, excess LDL particles can stick to artery walls (particularly walls that are damaged due to smoking, high blood pressure and other insults). Trapped LDL becomes oxidized and sets off an inflammatory cascade resulting in the development of plaque (gunk) stuck to arteries – atherosclerosis.

Coronary Artery Disease

How Can I Lower my LDL Cholesterol?

Cholesterol in food has little effect on your blood cholesterol.

Years ago we were told to stay away from shrimp, eggs and other high cholesterol foods. Yet this advice wasn’t based on sound science – cholesterol in food has little effect on your blood cholesterol levels. So there is no need to take these nutrient-rich foods out of your diet. Shrimp is loaded with protein, and is a good source of iron plus it contains just 80 calories per serving. Eggs are also packed with nutrition – the whites are an excellent source of protein and the yellow color you see in the yolk is from antioxidants – plant compounds that protect plants from disease and protect your body from the damaging effects of free radicals, compounds that are essential but can cause damage as well.

Coconut Oil, Butter and Other Solid Fats are Not the Best Options

Man-made trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) are the worst kind of fat you can eat. However, they should, finally, be making their way out of our food supply over the next few years. High levels of *saturated fat, the kind that is solid at room temperature like butter, increases HDL (the “good” cholesterol but not a target of therapy – doctors don’t focus on HDL levels because increasing HDL does not lower heart disease risk) and LDL cholesterol in the blood. In controlled diet experiments where saturated fat is replaced with polyunsaturated fat rich vegetable oils, risk of heart disease is reduced. Replacing saturated fat with monounsaturated fat, the kind found in olive oil, also lowers LDL but not to the extent that polyunsaturated fat does.

Coconut oil is popular and calorie for calorie it might be better for weight management than other fats. However, coconut oil raises our total, good and bad cholesterol levels. And therefore, it is not the best option for heart health.

Excess Carbohydrate Intake can Increase LDL

Overconsumption of carbohydrate-rich foods can also increase VLDL cholesterol (very low density lipoprotein). Foods with added sugars, in particular, are potent stimulators of VLDL production when the energy (calories) aren’t needed right away for energy or increasing glycogen stores (stored carbohydrate in your liver and muscle).

Best Fats for Your Heart

Nuts, seeds, avocados, olives and liquid oils are your bets for heart health. Oils with more polyunsaturated fat have a greater impact on LDL cholesterol than those rich in monounsaturated fat. Make sure you are choosing the right oil for the right cooking application. Many oils can’t stand high heat and they break down, damaging the structure (and function) of the oil.

Fatty Acids in Oils

Conclusion

Many factors contribute to high blood cholesterol levels, including genetics, overweight/obesity, inactivity, smoking, diabetes and age, making cholesterol management a multifactorial issue. Saturated fat increases LDL cholesterol but, as I’ll say over and over, we are all different and, people vary in their response to dietary saturated fat due to intrinsic differences in fat metabolism as well as other factors including obesity, insulin resistance and high triglycerides.

Replace fats that raise cholesterol with liquid oils, nuts, seeds, avocados, and olives. Consider your overall diet as well. Eat a plant-based diet including vegetables (non-starchy veggies as well as beans, lentils and peas), fruits, nuts, seeds and whole grains (oats, barley etc.). Consume fatty fish ( salmon, mackerel, herring, halibut, sardines etc.) at least two times per week. Limit your intake of foods with added sugars and refined starches as well as your alcohol consumption. 

* There are differences in specific saturated fatty acids and their effects on blood cholesterol. Therefore, some foods high in saturated fat do not raise LDL cholesterol. Also, oils have a different array of vitamins (primarily vitamin E) and plant-based compounds that may be beneficial for heart health.

Fatty acids composition of oils taken from the USDA Nutrient Database.

Should You Go on a Detox from Sugar?

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Should You Go on a Detox from Sugar?

Oh my gosh, the TODAY show just launched a new initiative called the 10-day sugar detox (#NoSugarTODAY). I’m so sick of detoxes! Though most people should reduce their intake of added sugars, let’s call a spade a spade: sugar is hardly “toxic”. Before giving a nutrient so much power, let’s get the facts right:

              –  No one single nutrient is responsible for poor health, weight gain, etc.

                –  Diet is a confluence of factors: food, lifestyle (exercise, activities of daily living,  sleep and more), etc.

                  –  Rather than focus on the single nutrient, think *really* hard about what you want to accomplish.

Why Should We Give Up Sugar?

It’s tough to tease out single ingredients like sugar and their potential health effects. However, we are eating too much added sugar – the kind that is mixed in during cooking or food processing. Men are averaging 335 calories from added sugars (20 teaspoons) whereas women are taking in an average of 239 calories (15 teaspoons) from added sugar each day. Kids are consuming a whooping 16% of their calories from added sugars.[1] The majority of added sugar in our diet comes from our food (as opposed to beverages). And while some of the sources are things you might expect: sodas, desserts, nutrition bars, etc., some of the added sugar culprits are seemingly healthy foods such as salad dressings and sauces. Added sugar enhances taste and provides calories but has no real nutrition value, in other words, no vitamins, minerals or plant based compounds that are important for good health. Naturally occurring sugars are found in foods packed with good nutrition including fruits, vegetables and dairy products. Though added sugars have nothing to offer you, giving up the sweet stuff for 10 days may be a short-term solution yet ineffective for the long term.

Here’s why the TODAY Show is missing the mark with this 10-day detox:

– 10 days isn’t long enough to change a habit. It’s more like taking a vacation.

– The cold turkey approach rarely works. You’re better off gradually reducing.

– Foods with naturally occurring sugars such as 100% fruit juice and dried fruits are wrongly maligned. In fact, the majority of research shows moderate amounts of 100% fruit juice are not linked to overweight or obesity in adults or children).

– You’re allowed to go right back to your old eating habits after 10 days. So what’s the point?

Why Limit Yourself to 10 Days? Set Yourself Up for a Lifetime of Success

–  Figure out why you are tempted to do a sugar detox and then plan to specifically address that issue.

–  Log your food intake for at least 3 days via MyFitnessPal. See how much sugar   you’re really eating. Can you tell which foods are sugar-added vs. naturally sweet?

–  Find small changes to reduce added sugars. For instance, you may need to cut down on sodas, or swap ice cream for a 100% fruit juice pop, or make your own vinaigrettes (really easy – especially if you take flavored vinegars and combine them with extra virgin olive oil; or try one of these simple, unique recipes)

–  Don’t deprive yourself of foods with naturally-occurring sugars. When I crave something sweet I reach for dried figs (or other fruit), plain yogurt, or sparkling water mixed with 100% fruit juice. All of these give me vitamins, minerals, and healthy plant-based compounds called polyphenols.

–  Reassess your food intake after 1 month and see if you can make any additional improvements).

–  Bottom line: progress is in the small steps, not giant leaps (or in this case, detoxes).

Many Americans should cut down on added sugars and make room for more nutrient-dense foods. But, don’t thrown the baby out with the bathwater and then go on an all-out sugar binge because you feel deprived. Forget the “detox,” figure out your “why” (why would you do a detox? What do you hope to gain?) and then carve out a reasonable plan for change that doesn’t focus on one single dietary variable. After all, there is no one food or ingredient that leads to obesity, chronic disease, feeling like your energy is zapped, or any other health issue.

[1] Ervin RB, Ogden CL. Consumption of added sugars among U.S. adults, 2005– 2010. NCHS data brief, no 122. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2013. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db122.pdf

[2] O’Connor TM, et al. Beverage intake among preschool children and its effect on weight status. Pediatrics. 2006. 118:e1010-e1018.

[3] Field AE, et al. Association between fruit and vegetable intake and change in body mass index among a large sample of children and adolescents in the United States. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2003. 27:821-826.

[4] O’Neil CE, et al. A review of the relationship between 100% fruit juice consumption and weight in children and adolescents. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2008. 2:315-354.

[5] Johnson L, et al. Is sugar-sweetened beverage consumption associated with increased fatness in children? Nutrition. 2007. 23:557-563.

 

Lighten Up Over the Holidays: Healthier Holiday Eating

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Gisselle Marie Rosa, UGA M.S. student

With the holiday season here, many Americans are faced with a very difficult decision: should I dive into that second serving of glazed ham and mashed potatoes delicately covered with a blanket of gravy or put the rest away for later? At this time of year, family and friends often gather together around the dinner table, sharing comfort food and stories while celebrating the holidays. But, let’s face the facts, many holiday foods aren’t the healthiest options. According to a recently published study, most Americans gain 0.5 kilograms, or about 1 pound, of weight during the holiday season.Overweight and obese individuals gain more than than those who are healthy weight.

But, if it’s only 1 measly pound over the holidays, then what’s the big deal?

While it seems that gaining 1 pound isn’t a big deal, the same study showed that most individuals don’t shed that pound over the next year. So over time those measly pounds tend to add up, increasing the individual’s risk for becoming overweight or obese.

Does this mean that you can’t eat your favorite holiday dishes?

Absolutely not! This is a special time and it is OK to enjoy the foods you love. However, there are some ways that you can modify your favorite dishes to make them more nutritious but still keep the familiar flavor that you love. Here are some tips to lighten up your holiday favorites:

  1. Appetizers/Dipping Sauces
    1. Chips, creamy dips, fried cheese sticks, potato skins, buffalo chicken poppers, you name it. These tasty snacks are one of the biggest calorie-packing culprits during the holidays. If appetizers are on the menu, opt for fresh vegetables dipped in a light ranch sauce or whole wheat pita chips dipped in a low-fat yogurt dip. Plenty of flavor, fewer calories.
  2. Mashed Potatoes
    1. This creamy dish is the quintessential holiday companion to any entrée, but many people make mashed potatoes with cheese, heavy cream, and plenty of butter. Try substituting the heavy cream for skim milk and chicken broth or roasted garlic for extra flavor while keeping the creamy texture of the potatoes.
  3. Latkes
    1. Potato Latkes are an essential part of every Hanukkah celebration, but these fried pillows of potatoes can really add a lot of fat to the holiday meal. Try mixing white and sweet potatoes to add extra vitamins and minerals to your dish. Also, make sure to use healthy oils such as olive oil to sauté the latkes instead of butter!
  4. Vegetable Casseroles
    1. While delicious, these creamy concoctions are typically filled with extra cheese, creamy condensed soups, and overcooked vegetables. Upgrade your favorite vegetable casseroles by substituting canned vegetables with frozen vegetables to decrease the sodium. Additionally, substituting some of the fried onions with slivered almonds keeps the familiar crunch while switching to low-fat cheese cuts out some of the fat and calories (or use less of a more flavorful cheese).
  5. Baked Goods
    1. Dessert during the holidays is definitely a must! A great way to cut the fat and the calories from your favorite baked goods is by substituting the oil with applesauce. Applesauce adds lots of moisture and becomes almost flavorless, making it a versatile ingredient.

Making healthy choices during the holidays may seem like a sacrifice, but it does not have to be! Done right, you can enjoy your favorite holiday comfort foods without packing on the calories or the pounds.

References

Schoeller DA. The effect of holiday weight gain on body weight. Physiology and Behavior 2014;134:66-69.

Effective Strategies for Weight Loss

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Last Friday I spoke at the NSCA’s Personal Trainers meeting in Las, Vegas. They put on one heck of a meeting and I love meeting NSCA members and learning from them as well as the speakers. And one thing I really liked about this meeting was the fact that several speakers challenged commonly held beliefs about nutrition and exercise. Here’s a condensed overview (not all points included) of my talk on Effective Strategies for Weight Loss:

1) Lift Weights or engage in some other type of resistance training, regularly. Muscle tissue doesn’t burn many more calories than fat (despite what people say) – about 4 calories more per day per pound. But, those calories add up over time and more importantly, adults start a gradual slow progression of losing muscle around age 40 (sarcopenia). Less muscle means you can’t exercise as hard which means you won’t burn as many calories while working out (and those activities of daily living like washing your car or lifting groceries will seem tough at some point).

2) Calories Matter. I hate to burst anyone’s bubble who thinks you can eat as much as you want as long as you slash so called “bad calories,” but calories count. If you don’t believe me, check out how nutrition professor Mark Haub lost 27 lbs and significantly improved his blood lipids on a 10-week diet of Twinkies, Doritos, sugary cereals and Hostess cupcakes. Want more evidence published in research journals? Okay, check out the POUNDS LOST trial which found that how much you eat matters more than the proportion of fat, carbohydrate and protein. And, that adherence to a diet determines success (and sticking with extreme diets that cut out food groups sucks so many people don’t last long on them).

3) Calories Matter but Protein is Crucial. Protein preserves muscle during weight loss and the lower your diet is in calories, the more you need protein. How important is protein for preserving muscle? Well, I love the overfeeding study published in JAMA earlier this year in which the study authors overfed participants by 40% more calories than they needed to maintain their weight. The participants were randomized to receive either 5%, 15% or 25% of their calories from protein. Now, 5% may seem low but because of their total daily caloric intake that 5% meant 47 grams per day – that’s 1 gram more than the protein RDA set by our government for women! All groups gained a similar amount of fat and the 15% and 25% group also gained muscle (and therefore more total weight) but, the group consuming 1 gram of protein more than the RDA set for women LOST 0.70 kg lean body mass! Take home points: over consume calories and you’ll gain fat. Make protein a greater proportion of the calories you over consume and you’ll also gain muscle. Follow the RDA and you may lose lean body mass.

4) Change your Environment for Success. Eat off smaller plates and bowls, choose smaller packages, get the food you don’t want to eat out of your house (if it is there, you will eat it at some point). Put healthy food within your line of vision. Avoid constant refills (chip basket at restaurants, bread basket, that never ending tub of beer bottles). And, surround yourself with people who encourage your success vs. those who will get in the way.

5) Keep your stress levels down. For more information on how stress impacts weight, click here.

6) Figure out WHY you are eating. You can have all the nutrition knowledge in the world and weight loss strategies but if you don’t delve into what is making you eat vs. using other coping mechanisms, long term success will elude you.

Now, you are probably wondering “well what about Forks Over Knives, the documentary that covered the supposed evils of animal protein?” I promise I’ll give my uncensored opinion (slashing) of that documentary in my next post in addition to more about protein 🙂

For a hilarious and insightful overview of this conference, check out fitness and nutrition expert Alan Aragon’s post. And, here’s a post from another one of my favorite writers, renowned fitness expert Brad Schoenfeld.

Squash Food Cues & Lose Weight

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Losing weight and keeping it off for good has a lot more to do with your head then your stomach. Your brain sends out satiety cues and it also stops you from grabbing a second piece of cake when you are already stuffed. Paying attention to what the unemotional, rational part of your brain is telling you will help you win the war on weight and kick diets to the curb for good. How can you start this process of mindful eating? First, become very aware of food cues that can cause you to eat & drink more than you physically need to consume. Some of these include:

  • Number of people at your table – as the # of people you dine with increases, so does your calorie intake. Now, I’m not suggesting you dine alone but, just be more aware of this in social settings so you don’t overeat. If you are a female, throw a hot man in the mix since women tend to eat less in the company of men. Or, better yet, throw several hot men in the mix. Your girl friends and your waistline will thank you for it!
  • Marriage. We tend to take on the habits of those around us and, typically, men eat more than women so when women get hitched, they take on the eating patterns of their spouse. Could it be that the chase is over too? I have no idea. But, women, take notice of your plate -it should not contain the same amount of food as your spouse’s plate.
  • Overweight, obese or diet-obsessed friends. If you dine with people who are overweight, you tend to eat more. Not to mention, many of these people want you to eat more so they feel better about what they are consuming. Likewise, I’ve noticed a strange phenomena among women obsessed with their weight or certain aspects of their body – they don’t feel okay eating cake, French fries or other foods they deem “bad” unless you eat it with them. If you have overweight or obese friends, by all means, dine with them. Just be aware of your behavior and find some friends who also encourage you to hit the gym, go running etc.

  • The TV + your comfy couch. Surely you’ve heard this a million times – more TV often = more weight. How do you combat that yet still view your favorite programs? Put a bike, treadmill or elliptical machine in front of the TV. And add some yoga to your workout mix – yoga = greater mindfulness overall.
  • Big plates, bowls, cups etc. – the bigger the dish you are eating out of, the more you’ll pack in there and subsequently, eat.
  • Refills – get individual servings of beer, soda, juice, etc. (vs. pitchers) and don’t let the waitstaff refill that bowl of chips). When we can’t see what we’ve eaten, and our plate, bowl or cup is constantly refilled, we eat more.

It pays to be more aware of what you are doing so you can change your behavior. Because, there are tons of visual cues (like the smell of a Cinnabon when I am dashing through the airport) around us that encourage us to eat. If you can tame some of these cues, you’ll be better off in the long run.  Last, but not least, don’t underestimate the effect of diet counseling (i.e. seeing a dietitian regularly) for weight loss.

Overweight or Obese? Your Transformation Guide is Here!

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As a nation, we’ve never had more tools to help us lose weight. But, we also have food, and tons of it, at our fingertips.  Food is everywhere and in some places, parks and trails are scarce. So, what’s an overweight girl or guy to do? Follow this step-by-step plan:

  1. Write down your exact goals and why you want to achieve them. What is driving you down the path to losing weight?
  2. Find out what works for you and check in frequently. I recommend working one-on-one with a dietitian who can take your medical history, medications you are consuming and dieting history into account to create a personalized plan while working around any barriers you may have (money, time, family duties, stress, motivation).
  3. Opt for a little more protein and consume protein evenly distributed throughout the day (but, don’t cut carbs out completely or you may find yourself dreaming of bread and fruit).
  4. Face your weight gain head on – take a look at your weight history over time and find out what caused your weight gain and deal directly with that issue.
  5. Believe you can change (this is a HUGE part of your success) and be sure to surround yourself with people who believe you can change.
  6. Realize it “Isn’t about the Hershey kisses,” as Memphis-based eating disorder expert and dietitian Leslie Schilling says. Binge eating, eating in secret (kitchen sink-side eating) and overeating have nothing to do with food and therefore, it is important to find out exactly why you are eating. What emotion or feeling is causing you to turn to food?
  7. Get rid of your Food Shame and Good Food, Bad Food mentality. If you feel shamed, you’ll eat in secret.
  8. Write down every BLT (bites, licks and tastes). You bite it, you write it.
  9. Reward yourself with non-food rewards.
  10. Exercise. Find whatever works for you that you like and will continue doing!

Sorting Through Nutrition Information to Develop an Individualized Approach

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FAU's Sue Graves and her studentsAt the ISSN conference a few weeks back, I had the opportunity to connect with good friends, pick the brains of some of the foremost sports nutrition scientists, talk sports nutrition strategies that work in the real world with the best sports dietitians in the country and learn about sports nutrition for Italy’s World Cup soccer players from Dr. Fabrizio Angelini (physician for Juventus) and Massimo Negro of Societa’ Italiana Nutrizione Sport e Benessere. And I soaked up every minute of it (and some sun, after all, Pensacola Beach is beautiful!). I’ll be blogging about what I learned over the next few days, but, I wanted to start with a conversation I had in the hall with Layne Norton, PhD.

I love talking to Layne because he is bursting with enthusiasm  for the many subject areas within sports nutrition. During his PhD he managed to speak throughout the country, write for bodybuilding.com and compete in bodybuilding (his wife, Isabel Norton-Lago is a personal trainer and competitor as well). His knowledge and experience make for a unique perspective on muscle, preventing loss of muscle mass and developing a person’s physique (which I’ll delve into tomorrow). But, the most profound thing we discussed that day, was the fact that there is so much nutrition misinformation out there and in reality, as Layne put it: many of them are right and many are wrong at the very same time. There are two main reasons for this:

1) Nutrition recommendations are made for the majority of people and that majority, here in the U.S., is overweight or obese and either has chronic disease or risk factors for chronic disease; and

2) Nutrition recommendations are made based on the current body of science at the time and what scientists interpret from this body of science (and Food Politics and Food Policy). And sometimes, the interpretation of the science is swayed because we don’t have the full picture (think of the changing recommendations between fat and cholesterol over the past 6 decades) or food policy influences the recommendations made (I’ll cover this tomorrow based on Layne’s presentation at ISSN).

Because of these two factors, the recommendations you hear in the news may not be right for you (think about the lower sodium recommendations – if you are an athlete, lowering your sodium intake could be dangerous). How do you know if they are or if they aren’t? Well, you can read about the subject matter you are interested in and decide for yourself or, seek the help of a dietitian who specializes in that particular area (sports, GI health, diabetes, CVD and more). The bottom line is this: nothing about nutrition is the exact same for every person.